Is it safe for shelters to use Zoom?

With people locked-down at home while COVID-19 rages around the world, the online meeting and webinar platform Zoom has become incredibly popular. At the same time, concerns over the application’s security issues have also hit the headlines.

Speaking at today’s GNWS Webinar on using technology (which was also held on Zoom), Erica Olsen from the US National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) said she frequently uses Zoom for internal work conversations and connecting with family and friends.

However, NNEDV does not recommend using Zoom for confidential conversations with clients, because (like many other applications) Zoom requires a download to your mobile device, which leaves a footprint that an abusive partner could find.

Although in theory it is possible to join meetings without downloading Zoom, it can be a very complex process. If an application has to be downloaded, it leaves a trace on your phone or device, so if the device is monitored by the abusive partner it will be visible.

The other problem is Zoom collects information about users, especially on its free service. There have been allegations of conversations being recorded and kept. So users need to be aware that Zoom is a third party company, over which you have no control.

On the plus side, because of the storm of negative media coverage over the past few weeks, Zoom has worked to make some of these concerns less problematic.

In terms of data that Zoom collects, including IP addresses, Zoom has a more secure option, but you have to sign into its business associate agreement to enjoy these. If you don’t have a corporate account, it may cost you quite a lot more.

NNEDV and other civil rights organizations are pushing for Zoom not to charge extra for privacy.

Zoom-bombing is also a concern. This is when someone takes over the screen of a group conversation with inappropriate content, or shouts inappropriate things in an open meeting. This can be avoided by changing the privacy settings. See NNEDV’s guidelines for preventing Zoom-bombing for details.

It is important to note that NO product is without risk, which is one of the reasons that NNEDV does not endorse products. Products are also constantly being upgraded, so their privacy, access, and security features will not be the same from week to week.

Depending on the survivors needs, the platform that will cause the least harm may be not be easily identified right away. It is important that with whatever product we use, we give survivors all of the information they need up front to make an informed decision.

Sometimes the low-tech solution is the best. If a phone call or a text message does the job, there is no need to go for the latest video conference application.

Being able to make an informed decision, means that survivors know the pros and cons of using the product in light of their situation. They need to understand the risks, and be given all of the information about how a platform may collect or share information.